On the Art of Running Away from Home in the 1970s…
A girl and her wee brother run away to New York and hide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where a statue captures their imagination.
The Hideaways (Preview Clip), warnerarchive and photos Ⓒ Cinema 5
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (1973) is the perfect escapist film for you and / or your stir-crazy kids, as a vicarious runaway from lockdown or life in general. The film – renamed The Runaways for video release – was based on the award winning children’s book written in the late sixties by E.L. Konigsburg. This story is a lovely credible tale for that time and place and stars two then young things and Ingrid Bergman. It really is a treat.
As the film begins an English folk song, Pretty Saro is sung without music, and this followed by a lovely instrumental seventies score during the opening credits is heard. A young 12-year-old Claudia Kincaid (Sally Prager) heads for her favourite getaway place as she travels over meadows, up streams and through woods somewhere in Madison, New Jersey. Minutes later, her wee brother Jamie (Johnny Doran) runs to catch up with her, knowing exactly where to find her.
Claudia is happily relaxing on a branch, high up a tree, but is summoned home by her wee fraternal messenger. He hollers up at her saying she has come home to help with the family chores. Jamie however has a mission of his own. He wants the money that she owes him, or he will charge her interest (as siblings do.) He’s even worked out the interest (he’s that money obsessed).
On her return home, Claudia asks her mother (Georgeann Johnson) more about the meaning behind the lyrics of Pretty Saro. Her mother answers and promises to spend time with her daughter the next day. Claudia’s other brother, toddler Kevin has even more demands that he needs Claudia’s help for.
It seems her mother takes Claudia for granted in caring for his needs. Claudia gets really grumpy and stomps about the place while emptying the bins, appearing fed up with her daily life. She finds a season train ticket in one bin and keeps it.
Claudia is a curious, imaginative and bourgeoning romantic soul, and wishes she was in time of Guinevere, King Arthur, knights in armour and Camelot. When she reads about this at bedtime, her father (Richard Mulligan) discourages her daydreaming about this time and place.
He cruelly tells her there is no Camelot and that she should accept the real world. This criticism even though his daughter is an intelligent girl and it’s not affecting her schoolwork. This beautifully described by her (but later in the film) as she feels she’s dependable on the outside, but Lady Guinevere inside. After his harsh words, Claudia cries in her room.
Claudia hears her parents fight about his treatment of her, then they go out for the evening. Jamie pops in to see Claudia in her room and asks her if she’ll play cards with him (for money of course). He talks graphically about a horror film he watched. Claudia listens to his over-enthusiastic
gitterings ramblings about those gorey details, and turns down his offer to play cards.
As the siblings walk home from the school bus, Claudia asks Jamie to join her in running away from home. She says she is inviting him as she likes his company which he takes as a compliment. This is to be their secret, and she stresses she wants to go away for enough time for their parents to appreciate her and no longer take her for granted. She’s worked a plan out and Claudia gives Jamie a lengthy to do list before they leave. She instructs reads then he rips it up and bins the list once he’s done it.
Claudia asks if he can bring money to support them both for a while, as he has nearly 25 dollars in card winnings. He agrees to do this but says his money is in loose change, as his card partner doesn’t use notes! The plan is to run away from home on a day they are both expected home late from school. We then see a delightful montage as Jamie reads through and carries out these seven different tasks. The kids pack their clothes in their musical instrument cases.
The kids get to the train station undetected, after hiding on the school bus (in a suspense-filled scene). After avoiding a school friend’s mother, Claudia uses the recently discovered train ticket which has one adult – but covering the price of two child train tickets – journey and the pair to travel to New York. Claudia posts a letter to her parents, telling Jamie this so they don’t worry and send the FBI after them.
On their arrival in New York, Jamie is put in charge of their money and inevitably he rises to this challenge. Thrifty Jamie insists the pair walk rather than catch buses and taxis to save money. Claudia takes them to their hideout place, which is revealed – after 50 blocks – as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This museum is her Camelot as an art lover where she can indulge in her favourite historical times and it has all the amenities. The kids hide in the wash rooms at lock up time, and manage to avoid being caught.
Their plan to hide in the museum works like a dream. Every night, the pair manage to avoid the night watchmen. For a week they sleep in ornate beds, wash in the museum’s fountains and pray in the museum chapel. The happy pair also spend time looking round the museum together (seen in a lovely montage) and on their own with and without torches.
During the day they “join” the queue to re-enter the museum at opening time, and join school parties to avoid suspicion. After they join one school visit, the curious Jamie nearly lets their game away by asking a teacher (Madeline Kahn) a question. But luckily the teacher is too flustered to notice her two new “pupils”. Claudia tells him off for nearly drawing attention to them.
The kids venture to Macy’s for food where they eat far too much free food samples from far off places, or they pay for food using money they find in the museum fountain. The kids are seen as very close sliblings, and are supportive and caring for the other, be it when they get homesick or feel sick after eating far too much free food.
One night, Claudia is fascinated by a new marble statue of an angel she spots in the museum storeroom. The next day they learn more about this statue as the Press visit the museum (Claudia manages to avoid their faces appearing in the newspaper). Jamie overhears some security guards in the washroom who discuss the statue saying it belonged to a rich elderly widow recluse, Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. This statue is believed to be a possible work from Michelangelo and cost the museum 225 dollars!
The kids research more on Michelangelo at the local library hoping to learn more. After some museum workers move the statue, it leaves a mark behind. Jamie suggests this mark is letter W, but Claudia believes its a M for Michelangelo and this the proof the museum is looking for.
The two kids type an anonymous letter to the museum about this finding. Claudia is upset when they get a letter back agreeing with their conclusions as she wanted to feel different, and she doesn’t. Despite her now upset and wanting to go home, the kids then use the last of their money to catch a train and a taxi to visit Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler.
It is here Ingrid Bergman as this character joins the story as Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. The children ask her butler if she will speak with them about the Italian Renaissance and she agrees. After her butler, Saxonburg (George Rose) ushers the kids into the house, Mrs Frankweiler joins the children. She’s an elderly woman with a walking stick. She immediately recognises the kids from reports and photos from the week’s newspapers.
She is a bit cranky and irritable with them, and tells them off for worrying their parents. But her crotchety behaviour also part of her personality. This woman warms to the kids, and her harsh demeanour evaporates quickly. She is bemused by them and their interest in the statue, but won’t tell them the story behind it.
She is more interested in their adventure as runaways. Claudia won’t tell her anything and wants to keep the secret of where they have been for the week in return for knowing more on the statue. Despite Mrs Frankweiler’s brusqueness, she invites the two runaways to stay for lunch. She phones their parents, as they freshen up.
She plays cards with Jamie, who loses and she gives him an IOU. Mrs Frankweiler and Jamie appear to have an easy rapport, joke and laugh with each other and talk honestly. Jamie lets slip that they stayed at the museum and Mrs Frankweiler promises them a lift home with her chauffeur in return for more information. However Claudia arrives and is angry with Jamie for telling all.
Mrs Frankweiler tells the kids she has phoned their parents. After lunch, while Jamie and Saxonburg play cards, Mrs Frankweiler takes Claudia to her basement. This room has a door leads to an outbuilding where she keeps a shed load of filing cabinets and the secret of the statue.
Mrs Frankweiler talks frankly about her life with her husband and Claudia talks for the first time about her real reasons for running away. The older woman seems to understand Claudia and her motives and trust grows between them. Mrs Frankweiler shows her a file with the secret behind the angel’s creator.. You can find out about more on Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and her secret by watching the rest of this movie.
This was an enchanting and charming movie and I loved the well written and captivating story. The script felt natural and refreshing with realistic dialogue and conversations in all situations from all these characters. Their actions, phrases and beliefs were credible for their respective ages.
Sometimes I’ve found when children are added to a film, they are like mini adults yet here these children felt real and authentic and not precocious or annoying. These attributes added to the empathy you felt for the children in situations and made you identify more with their characters and situations.
Young Sally and Johnny were beautifully cast in their leading roles. Both were credible as close siblings and this seen in their strong rapport and realistic banter conveying their character’s personalities perfectly. These child actors in their leading roles, carry most of the film.
Both children rose to the occasion fanastically, convincing me of their acting talent in all the different emotional aspects of the film be it joy, sadness or curiosity. Their on-screen parents were only seen for those opening scenes, yet you felt how their words and behaviours affected Claudia as she changed from the carefree child in the credits to crying alone in her room.
The children made their characters likeable and because of this you wanted the best for them. Both had their own individual quirks such as Claudia corrects her wee brother on his grammar, and he admits to cheating at cards with his friends. They had wild imaginations – Jamie’s from the TV and films he’s watched, and Claudia’s from more romantic times in history – and this evident in their conversations.
The film script was often seen from a child’s point of view – with their fears of being caught seen in some tense scenes and their reactions to situations childlike (yet relatable) – made the film more captivating, engaging and entrancing.
Little childhood behaviours and naunces in the script also helped you relate to and identify with these young characters. This including when Jamie spoke up during the school trip visit, his fears of sleeping alone in the first night, Claudia hiding the bus ticket in her sock and Jamie overeating the free food. Doran excelled in his brotherly role and I loved how his character bounced admirably off his big sister. This when she corrected his grammar and his support when she was upset after the museum letter.
Young Sally Prager was easy to emphatise with with her home situation and you could feel her anger with her mother at being taken for granted and wanting to be appreciated by her. Her sadness after her father’s harsh words, after he tells her off for “fantasising” is heartbreaking, as you feel her her father did not appreciate her and her imagination.
However, it was a joy to watch her character’s love and wonder at the artworks in the museum. This was seen in a wonderful montage where she shows her brother round the museum and when talks to her brother about the exhibits. Her little face of childhood awe when she saw the angel statue, showed just how much this statue and it’s story appealed to this young girl’s imagination. Prager’s on screen rapport with Johnny Doran was credible in all their scenes where she convinced me in her big sisterly role as she looked out for them, and cared for him.
Although Ingrid Bergman was only in this film for the final third of the film, she was worth the wait. I understand her character, Mrs Frankweiler narrates this story in the book, but the timing of her appearance in this movie was perfect. With young Sally wanting to learn more on the statue, its a moment of childhood impulsiveness and curiosity that takes her and us to Mrs Frankweiler.
Mrs Frankweiler initially seemed gruff and sharp with the children, Bergman appeared severe yet caring as in Bergman’s performance you felt this more as a concern as an adult. However in her initial more gruff talks with the children you could feel little chinks of warmth and admiration for them regarding their recent adventure.
This warmth for the children increased with her playing cards with Jamie, and her strong rapport with Claudia where she opened up more about the statue in heartwarming scenes. Yet as she started to share more with the children, Bergman’s character responded well to their childhood honesty. This leading to those lovely scenes. With Claudia, this character opened up much more about her life and the statue. She identifies with the young girl, as a kindred spirit, with both wanting to find their own treasures and being different.
This she puts beautifully saying
“One of the greatest adventures in life is to know something that nobody else knows. Something that makes you different, where it really counts: inside yourself.”
Mrs Frankweiler’s brusqueness was also with her butler was also observed, and her concern for the children’s parents. Bergman had some lovely comic scenes with her butler where she convinced as a recluse. This was seen in her dialogue and a well thought out scene where she asked for help in phoning the children’s parents from him. She had a delightful if not off-hand rapport with this butler, who understood her so well.
Although this film and story is a classic which can be enjoyed by all ages, I was happy to see that it still is judging from the enthusiastic online reviews of both the book and this movie. I was surprised to see that the story remade in as a TV Movie in 1995. I’ve not seen this updated remake, but only the film trailer which I feel is not as magical and beguiling as this film version. I feel this story would only work in time without CCTV and vigorous alarm systems and for kids of a certain time and place.
This remake starred Ingrid Bergman’s co star from Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Lauren Bacall in the role of Mrs Frankweiler. After seeing this trailer, Bacall appears more fiesty and independent, where Bergman seems more credible as this recluse with a heart. I’d argue this story the perfect vehicle for Bergman, even now as time goes by that’s if you’ve followed my train of thought.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
Hulk Rating: /10
Fifth Ingrid Bergman Blogathon 2020, No 19
This review was added to The Wonderful World of Cinema‘s Fifth Ingrid Bergman Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Ingrid Bergman in Murder on the Orient Express and Indiscreet. Madeline Kahn in Yellowbeard. Richard Mulligan in SOB, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels and Circle of Fear. Georgeann Johnson starred in Tales from the Crypt, The Colbys, Dallas, Knots Landing, Hart to Hart, One Step Beyond, Suspicion, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Shoot the Moon.